If there is anything that we can say with confidence about “Growing Up Online”, it has generated a fair amount of discussion about the role of technology and the Internet in children’s lives. As the catalytic effect of social networking on the adolescent experience is under the light of public scrutiny for the next news cycle, we can rest assured that the nature of the discussion has changed.
Reactions are understandably mixed. Some express disappointment that the surface of a complex subject was skimmed, leaving unanswered the deeper questions about our culture yet still accenting just enough fear to grab viewers. Others, me included, are pleased that views like those of Danah Boyd and Anne Collier have made it to the popular media. There could have been much more fear mongering, much more parroting of the Luddite call to parents to throw their children’s computers out like Beatles records in 1966. We didn’t hear that.
Though to tell the truth, I expected to see a documentary on the role of technology on education. That was what I talked about through three conversations with the film-makers and the hour–long recorded interview. But in the end the subject of education was whittled down to cheating and entertainment, just a couple minutes in the entire program.
That’s fair of course, the film had a different focus, and education was just along for the ride. And they did include transcripts of the interviews on the companion site. Yet to those of us absorbed with education, those of us convinced it is the most ignored national security threat facing our country, those of us who have found our lives and learning transformed by new tools of communication and information, those of us who feel lucky to watch humanity go through the initial stages of the greatest change it has ever experienced, those of us who teach, were left wanting more.
We do have this one consolation; we have our own media and marketplace of ideas as well. As I watched the story grow over the weekend and overflow in my aggregator, I marveled at the way church groups, mother’s clubs, and teachers told each other to watch and then discussed it afterwards. Were they talking about the role of technology in education this way last week? What remains to be seen though is how the discussion generated by this program will be taken up by the education community as a whole. How will individual teachers, administrators and dare I say, state legislators, join this conversation?
Maybe throwing cheating and entertaining into the mix causes just enough spark to get more people involved. As this issue evolves, those of us who think we see the true potential and need to change are going to have to work harder than ever. Technology not only changes the “how” we teach, it also changes the “what” we teach. And it’s not going to be easy to convince people that memorizing US history is not learning US history.
John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems has impeccable timing. In a column from Forbes he writes “Technology hasn’t simply changed the way we obtain and share information; it has changed the very nature of what we need to know in order to be effective.”….”we are going to have to have the courage to break patterns and approach this in an entirely different way. We might even need to explore some things that make us uncomfortable.”
Let’s hope this first step into a national conversation about technology in education starts that exploration.